Nanopesticides: A Sustainable Route to Arresting Crop Loss

by - April 15th, 2017

A silent crisis has enveloped the world as demands of the growing population for food continue to weigh heavily on food production and security. As per FAO estimates, the global population is expected to reach over 9.1 billion by 2050, a steep hike of 34% from the present, with the majority expected to be parked in developing nations.Correspondingly, atleast 3 billion tones (current 2.1 billion) are required to cope with the global annual cereal production demand.

However, of late food production goals are riding out crop and productivity losses. According to a worldwide estimate of the proportion of crop loss engendered by different agents, insects account for the highest i.e. 14% of the total loss. Plant diseases and weeds, each cause over 13% crop loss, totaling up to a loss of over 2000 billion dollars per year!This prompts commercial use of innovative technologies for protection of agricultural produce.

Many innovations in sustainable agriculture are bullish in the use of nanotechnology for crop protection and productivity. Nanopesticides, for instance, are crucial tools for the next generation of sustainable agriculture practices. These plant-protection products are engineered to enhance farming efficacy while maintaining low toxicity at the same time.Management of plant pathogenic microbes and insect pests through the use of nanopesticides greatly helps in arresting crop losses on field besides enhancing agricultural productivity.

Making a beeline for capacity-building

India's 'Vision 2050' for agriculture stirs new technology-driven interventions and suggests greater capacity-building and R&D in the sector. Use of nanotechnology to boost agricultural productivity has been identified as most critical to these goals. However, its success hinges on the level of skill development to identify gaps and provide solutions in the area of nanotechnology application. For instance, innovative risk assessment solutions are needed to test characteristics such as toxicity of individual nanoparticles. Institutions like the TERI-Deakin Nanobiotechnology Centre are opening up courses on nanotechnology applications and agricultural biotechnology.

As India catches on to the benefits of sustainable agriculture, building capacities, both individual and institutional, must be at the top of its agenda to realise the full potential of these technologies.

Selective insect targeting has greater impact

The small size of nanopesticides helps slash the amount of pesticides used. Their higher total surface area coverage and shelf-life allows a better interface with pests as compared with their conventional non-nano counterparts. Nanopesticides can also be engineered for controlled release of active ingredients and target specific pests without affecting beneficial organisms.

This has been harnessed well at the TERI-Deakin Nanobiotechnology Centre (TDNBC), where we have developed a series ofsuperior and highly-stable “Water-Based Ready-to-Use” Bisacylhydrazine (BAH) nanopesticides. These act as‘green compounds’ owing to their selective insect toxicity and can target pests at lower doses than usual.These pesticides can also be used as tools in an array of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programmes. Additionally, they present a better environmental profile and Insect Growth Regulatory (IGR) behavior in comparison with similar, commercial Methoxyfenozide insecticides.

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